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Social phobia and the fear of groups

As a teen and in my twenties I had an extreme phobia of talking in groups. I only felt safe talking to one other person. As soon as it was no longer a one-one interaction I felt overwhelmed by fear. Fear of being seen to be stupid, having nothing to say, being boring or unwanted.

As a teen I realised that nothing I thought or believed was unique to me: all that I thought and knew was learnt from what I had read or heard. And I started to feel that I was somehow not real, that whereas others were themselves I was just a construction of borrowed thoughts, beliefs and ideas. This made me fear speaking as I felt I had nothing genuine to say.

It was only on coming into contact with Buddhism that I started to realise that this sense of being no one was actually in line with Buddhist teaching and not a deficiency in my personality! According to Buddhist teachings we are all simply constructs of our social and cultural conditions and there is no soul or real self at the core of this. Instead there can be a waking up to the non-self, Awareness, the ‘isness’ of Being. Through my involvement with Buddhist groups I started to feel more comfortable in myself, but I still feared talking to more than one person. On study retreats I was known as the silent one! Everyone else would be jumping in with their thoughts and opinions in the study group and I would sit in silence, not knowing how to join in the conversation.

People who know me now know how ready I am to get into a conversation! Although I still feel a certain fear in public groups, I have learnt not to believe in this and to let go into the free fall of not knowing as I open my mouth and let a conversation start. One of my biggest lessons was realising that no matter what I do I will never be liked by everyone. The burden of wanting to be approved of by all I met was too much. In the end it seems we have to accept some will like us no matter what we do, some will arrive at a balanced view of us depending on our actions, and some will dislike us no matter what we do!! So why worry about the impression one is making when there are some who will disprove no matter how much we try!

Over the last 24 years I learnt to relax and let go of the fear of being in groups. I know how painful it can be and if you experience it I know it can feel as if it will never change. Please be reassured though, it’s simply a self view – and Buddhism teaches that all self-views are in the end empty of any truth, they are simply a story about ourself we choose to believe. The talk linked to at then d of this blog gives a profound invitation to let go of the story. You may connect with what the teacher says or it may seem too abstract. I hope it will give food for reflection. And that you can see that if someone who once couldn’t speak to more than one person at a time now happily sits and talks to a room full of 40 these things can change!

The most important part of learning to let go of my fear was to realise I didn’t have to get it all right, that making a mistake didn’t make me a mistake, and that it’s all right to simply have a go and seem to fail. It requires lots of Loving Kindness to oneself to let go of the negative scripts we may have constructed that we are no good, unlovable, not worthy. As we give this Loving Kindness to ourselves the internal judgements that look on so critically at our performance softens and we can start to accept, in the fantastic quote from a teacher I met in my early years of Buddhist practice, that we are simply “a mess in progress!”

Click here to goto the talk by Gangaji

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